Iran, the world’s only theocracy, has becomes the world’s least religious countries.
By law, all public buildings in Iran must have prayer rooms. But travelling around the country you will find few shoes at prayer time outside these rooms in bus stations, office buildings and shopping centres. “We nap in ours after lunch,” says an office manager. Calls to prayer have become rare, too. Officials have silenced muezzins to appease citizens angered by the noise. The state broadcaster used to interrupt football matches with live sermons at prayer time; now only a small prayer symbol appears in a corner of the screen.
Iran is the modern world’s first and only constitutional theocracy. It is also one of the least religious countries in the Middle East. Islam plays a smaller role in public life today than it did a decade ago. The daughter of a high cleric contends that “religious belief is mostly gone. Faith has been replaced by disgust.” Whereas secular Arab leaders suppressed Islam for decades and thus created a rallying point for political grievances, in Iran the opposite happened.
The transformation of Shia Islam into an ideology undermined both the state and the mosque. The great irony of the Islamic revolution is that inadvertently it did more to secularise the country than the tyrannical shah, who ruled Iran after a coup in 1953 and persecuted clerics. By forcing religion on people it poisoned worship for many. They are sick of being preached at and have stopped listening.